30 June 2007
Pat Dowling - The heart of Ballinkillen
A hurling giant was laid to rest in Ballinkillen churchyard. He may not
have won All-Ireland medals, he never graced Croke Park, indeed, to the
best of my knowledge, he never wore the county jersey but, make no
mistake, Pat Dowling was a hurling giant.
Along the highways and byways of Ireland you will meet many great
hurling men, men whose passion for and interest in the clash of the ash
is all consuming, men who led their town or parish to the ’promised
Pat Dowling was one such man and the ’promised land’ was the Carlow
Senior Hurling Championship of 2001; rarely, if ever, has a championship
victory owed so much to the vision and diligence of one single-minded
character as did Ballinkillen’s to Pat Dowling.
However the same Pat Dowling; didn’t fit the usual stereotype associated
with steering a club to hurling glory. Normally someone like the local
schoolteacher, a crusading priest or maybe a former star hurler would
take the local youths by the had and guide them up through the ranks.
In Ballinkillen it was Pat Dowling; the same Pat Dowling who had a taste
for fast motorbikes and flamboyant clothes! But Pat also had a taste for
hard work; a journeyman hurler in his younger days, he was a player who
made the most of this ability by this willingness to hone his skills in
the training field and, one suspects that it was during those diligent
work-outs that the Ballinkillen man learned many of the techniques that
were to stand him in good stead when he turned to coaching.
Pat’s own career was plagued with ill-luck or bad-timing! A mite too
young when Ballinkillen won the Senior Hurling Championship in 1973,
just 17 when Terry and Tim Byrne, Cyril Hughes, the Farrells and Tom
Collier et al stormed to a county final victory over Myshall.
Pat made his senior championship debut two years later, joining up with
many of the heroes of ’73 but Carlow Town shocked Ballinkillen in the
quarter-final, the teenage Dowling lining out at left half-back.
By the time Ballinkillen next won the Senior Championship, 2001, Pat
Dowling’s playing days were well over, he having suffered the heartache
of losing two County senior finals to Naomh Eoin in 1976, to Carlow Town
Pat was a star midfielder with Ballinkillen in the 1977 County U21
final, his side narrowly beaten by Carlow Town and was overage the
following year when Ballinkillen gained sweet revenge! Something similar
at minor, Kilcloney lost a championship semi-final to the all-conquering
Michael Davitt’s side in Pat’s final year; two years later the
Ballinkillen/Borris/Ballymurphy amalgamation won the championship.
Indeed for all his hurling Pat Dowling won just one championship medal,
right corner-back when Ballinkillen won the Intermediate Championship in
1990 but by then he was equally involved in coaching the youth of the
area having been a founder member of the Juvenile Club, steering the
U14s to All-Ireland Feile no nGael glory in 1989.
It was in that same 1989 I first came to know Pat Dowling though our
first ’conversation’ was a little heated! An Intermediate championship
match in Bagenalstown, Ballinkillen’s first team against Carlow Town’s
’second-string’, we had won the Junior the previous year and fancied our
chances of going the whole way at the higher grade too.
I was corner-forward, Pat a tight-marking corner-back, too tight in my
opinion, illegally tight i thought and voiced that opinion to the
referee when another ’obvious free’ was ignored. "Go way out of that and
stop your townie whinging," or words to that effect was Pat’s immediate
response and the last time I was talking to him he was of the same
It was over a year ago, I had predicted that Erin’s Own, fresh from
their Leinster and All-Ireland Club exploits, would beat Pat’s beloved
Ballinkillen in a Senior Championship opener only for Ballinkillen to
record a resounding victory. Met Pat outside Oscar’s and remarked on
their impressive win to which he quickly replied "we have to keep the
In between those two ’townie’ tales I shared many a hurling chat with
Dowling and his wife Ann and after Clare won the All Ireland in 1995 who
were the first people I should meet that I know (outside of ’Mouse’
Murphy of Nurney on the Canal End) but the Dowlings. Truth to tell I was
on such a ’high’ I don’t remember much of that meeting though it’s in my
mind that Pat passed a remark that it was good to see me sporting the
Six years later we were to meet again after a hurling final, only this
time Pat was the man on a ’high’ having helped steer Ballinkillen to
that famous 2001 Senior Hurling Championship success. I was reporting
the county final for The Nationalist that wet, wet day and later tracked
down the Ballinkillen contingent for a few after-match quotes, the
journalist in me fishing for an angle, the veteran player and the
inspirational coach. My prayers were answered as the following excerpts
"Devereux’s, the sponsors of the Carlow SHC, was awash with hurlers on
Sunday evening as the after-match reception for both minor and senior
teams afforded the protagonists, their mentors and supporters relive the
on field action in more convivial surroundings. Drying out in a Licensed
Premises might seem a contradiction in terms but that is exactly wheat
all concerned were doing having endured the horrendously wicked wet
conditions in Dr Cullen Park. "Callinkillen, thought, were feeling no
pain, two superb displays bringing a brilliant double to the little
village and its surrounds which was festooned in blue and gold all week.
"The first man this scrive met was, appropriately, Paddy Brennan, at 38,
the oldest man on the field and scorer of a fine first half goal. How
about a quote for the paper, Paddy, how does it feel to win a medal
after 22 years? "Jeez, I’m not too good at this sort of thing," says the
big full-forward but then reveals a bit of what the Yanks would refer to
as ’sports visualisation’.
"I was going into the bank this morning to get money and then I was
thinking to myself that this was tempting fate, to bring money to party
"Before the genial Paddy could finish mentor Pat Dowling piped in "Put
down that it’s the first time Brennan brought money!" It was that type
of evening. "Pat Dowling himself, along with such men as his brother
Tommy, Eamon O’Neill, Tommy Kinsella and Sean Dalton have put in Trojan
work at underage level with Ballinkillen, work which is now bearing
I was delighted for Pat Dowling that day, delighted to shake his hand,
for many our precious meetings had taken place in a virtually deserted
County Grounds after Juvenile B finals as I checked Ballinkillen’s
line-out and scorers with him or quiet side-kick Eamon O’Neill. I once
dubbed Ballinkillen the ’B Specials’, such was their frequency in U12,
U14 and U16 finals, a constant feature the coach on the sideline with
the clipboard, the first coach in my experience to use such a modern
prop. That coach was Pat Dowling and soon the clipboard was being used
at A finals and after that 2001 Senior triumph, the minor A
three-in-a-row, the winning of the U-16 A in 1992 and the U-14 A in 1997
would have been a huge source of joy to Pat Dowling.
It was Pat who christened Ballinkillen’s ’Hurlers Mile’, it was Pat who
fashioned those hurlers and it was those hurlers who carried Pat to his
final resting place. A hurling giant, who battled serious illness with
the same bravery he brought to the hurling field, the photograph that
accompanies this column was taken on the occasion presented for
outstanding work at juvenile level and an award that meant a hell of a
lot to Pat Dowling.
To his wife Anne, daughter Emma, son PJ, brothers Tommy and John, Sister
Jeanie and his many, many friends we extend out deepest sympathy.
Pat Dowling - An Appreciation
When the news broke that Pat had died there was a dazed reaction among
the members of Ballinkillen Hurling Club. We were dazed because, even
though everyone knew that Pat was fighting a losing battle with his
illness, such had been his omnipresence and his influence in the club
that it was almost inconceivable to envisage the club without him.
Indeed, it can be said that without his work over the years, the club as
it exists might me an entirely different entity or might possible have
ceased to exist.
Pat had always been a club stalwart from the first time that he pulled
on the jersey. He brought the same focus and determination to his
hurling that he had shown in his athletics career during which he had
been a specialist long distance and cross-country runner. Not for him
the puerile excuses for missing training. When pat signed on for
something he was in for the long haul and gave everything to achieve
whatever goal had been set.
He played on two Senior Hurling finals in 1976 and 1979. The first final
saw him operating at corner forward and the second saw him at corner
back; a tribute both to his versatility and his willingness to do
whatever hob the club needed done. Unfortunately, both of these final
appearances ended in defeat and even though Pat tasted victory in two
Bolger Cup wins these defeats strengthened his resolve to win a Senior
Hurling Championship. Nobody thought in 1979 that Ballinkillen, who had
contested four finals in the 1970s, would not be in another final until
2001. In fact in the 1980s Pat saw his beloved Ballinkillen relegated to
Intermediate status and true to form set about remedying the situation.
In 1987 Ballinkillen had an intermediate team and nothing else. Cometh
the hour cometh the man. Pat, as always, instead of lamenting the
situation, put in place a plan to provide a long term solution to the
player deficit problem; he became a founder member of Ballinkillen
Juvenile Club. This took place in that same year and laid the
foundations for success to come. To say that Pat was the main mover in
the progress subsequently made by the club would be like saying that Ger
Loughnane was mildly interested in the success of Clare hurling. Without
him it wouldn’t have happened.
Success was almost immediate.
In 1989, a Ballinkillen team qualified for Feile and went on to win
their division; the manager was Pat Dowling. This was one of his
sporting exploits which gave him the greatest pleasure. The significance
of the day could not be overstated as the club minor team made it a
double by winning a third minor title in a row. Not alone had Pat’s work
embellished the present it had ensured the future of the club.
Between 1987 and 2006 and even through his illness Pat filled a variety
of roles in the club. It must also be remembered that during this time
he was building up a couple of businesses epitomising the axiom, "If you
want something done ask a busy man to do it". No task was too big or too
small. At various times he was a selector or manager and acted as a
secretary for many years. During this time, in midweek, he went to
collect players who were away in school to ensure that the relevant team
had the best possible chance of winning. He organised all sorts of
fundraising events; tea parties, supper dances and Lord Mayoral
elections. If he wasn’t sponsoring the jerseys himself he was cajoling
someone else into doing it. Talking of the same jerseys, for years he
washed dup to four sets a week in his laundrette without ever asking the
club for a cent. This work was recognised on a number of occasions when
Pat was voted clubman of the year.
Pat had a way of getting people to work for him. Because of the amount
of work that he put in, when he asked it was done. The moral authority
of his major contribution which backed every request meant that only a
tiny minority refused. The esteem in which he was held and the respect
for him were evident in the turnout at the arrival of his remains in
Ballinkillen. This was particularly shown in the long guard of honour
made up of current and former Ballinkillen and Fenagh players and
members who flanked Pat’s remains as he was carried by relays of his
clubmates, with a poignant stop outside Ballinkillen’s pitch, on his way
to his final resting place.
To borrow from Tomas O Croimthain’s book on the Blasket Islans, An
tOileaneach, and change it slightly; we will not see his likes again.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis
Ballinkillen’s county men pay tribute to Pat...
From the time I started hurling about seven or eight years of age I can
remember Pat being in the hurling field whether it be training or
matches; Pat was the backbone of the juvenile club, in getting it
started. He taught me an awful lot about hurling, his proudest day would
have been when we won the senior in 2001, having coached nearly all the
panel at underage level. He also took great pride in anyone that went on
to play for the county. I think there’s not enough words to justify what
he did for Ballinkillen Hurling Club.
I suppose my abiding memory of Pat in Ballinkillen is the fact that he
was an ever present in the club and would be there for every match from
U12 up and all club events in between. The other thing I will always
remember is the fact that he always had a smile and a laugh and some
encouragement for your no matter what the situation on the pitch.
Source: Leo McGough, Courtesy of The Carlow
Nationalist. June 2007